Chief: I’m responsible for fleet issues

March 24, 2019
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HUNTINGTON — Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader said she takes responsibility for any issues with the department’s fleet after a rescue boat and two ladder trucks broke down from a lack of routine maintenance.

Rader discussed issues with the fleet during a hearing on the department’s proposed 2019-20 budget with City Council members Thursday. The budget allocated $14.1 million for the Huntington Fire Department, which is the largest in the department’s history.

Rader provided details about what the budget seeks to accomplish, including the purchase of new personal protective clothing and equipment; the beginning of a lease purchase for either a new ladder truck or fire engine; and funding to renovate one fire station and a start to replace two others.

Rader said she was addressing “the elephant in the room” by discussing issues with the fleet maintenance program that led to several community members attending a City Council meeting last month, voicing concerns for public and firefighter safety.

Mayor Steve Williams has since ordered an “external, independent investigation” into management and protocol involving the department’s trucks and equipment, which he said could be a “breakdown in command or in protocols.” A timeline for when that investigation

would be completed and who would conduct it has not been finalized.

In early January, one of the department’s ladder trucks broke down because of reported electrical issues. On Feb. 7, a second ladder truck broke down before a maintenance crew determined it was 14 quarts low on oil, causing the truck to lock up. This left the city without ladder trucks, having to rely on mutual aid agreements with volunteer fire departments in Cabell and Wayne counties. Both trucks have since been returned to service.

The fire department’s water rescue boat, or Marine Co. 1, has been out of service since May 2018, when a pump failure caused it to take on water. Equipment on the boat was also damaged during a vehicle transport.

“I take full responsibility as the chief for any issues we have had on the fleet, but I can reassure you we have taken steps already to fix those problems with the fleet,” Rader told council members.

Rader has directed Assistant Fire Chief Ray Canafax to be over the department’s fleet management program. Within the next six months, Canafax will develop an apparatus replacement cycle to help with fleet management, she said. The department also partnered with the city’s Public Works Department.

“We are streamlining our process to get our fleet worked on a regular basis,” she said.“We are very open to an investigation that Mayor Williams has called upon to make sure that we keep better records and that we communicate better.”

Lake Assault Boats of Minnesota, the company that built Marine Co. 1, sent a representative to examine the boat and take a report on what it would take to repair it. The department has not yet received price estimates, but Rader said she would file an insurance claim. It’s likely the boat would have to be sent to Minnesota for repairs, she said.

Meanwhile, the fire department pulled out of storage a separate boat, River-1, which is a Carolina Skiff that hasn’t been used in 24 or 25 years. Rader said the U.S. Coast Guard in Huntington recently took the boat and performed general maintenance on it.

The Coast Guard will also partner with all of the department’s firefighters this spring to do training on River-1. There would be more training rotations once Marine Co. 1 was repaired and returned to service, she said.

Rader said one of the tower trucks recently underwent repairs to fix a rotating nozzle. It was returned to service Friday.

“We are getting a lot of the minor issues fixed on them,” she said. “A lot of general maintenance had been put off.”

Also during Thursday’s hearing, Rader said the 2019-20 proposed budget requests $100,000 to purchase air monitors, thermal imaging cameras, rescue tools and 50 sets of turnout gear. The turnout gear is personal protective clothing and equipment firefighters wear while battling blazes. Firefighters must wash off the turnout gear to remove any carcinogens after each use. Firefighters often wear their turnout gear several times during a shift because many do not have backups, she said. The last turnout gear was bought in 2015 through lease purchases.

Rader’s budget also proposes purchasing either a new ladder truck for $1 million or a new fire engine for $500,000. Command staff would determine which is needed more before beginning singing a lease.

Lastly, Rader’s budget identifies funds to renovate Station 5 in Guyandotte, which needs a renovated kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Funds were allocated to begin the construction of a new Station 2, which services Marshall University and the Highlawn neighborhood. The station will be located on the corner of 20th Street and 9th Avenue. This will replace the previous station, which has significant structural issues, and ensures firefighters can reach the other side of the underpass during flooding.

There is also money to begin the process of building a new Station 8, which services the Westmoreland neighborhood. Rader said she met with the Westmoreland Fire Committee to discuss possible sites, which would take approximately five years to construct.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-